~ By Lindsay Stolkey
“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it's the only thing that ever has.” (Margaret Mead)
In Germantown, four women came together and started a time bank-- Joy, Calli, Roz, and myself. We don’t think conceptually that we’re “changing the world,” but in some small way - in which our actions are part of a collective whole - we are. If not in your local community, where else do you begin? There’s a place for change through broader programs and policies, and for charismatic inspirational leaders, but for the deep and long-lasting change we need, this starts in our communities. It happens through our interdependence and connectedness to each other. This is both a means and an end. It is not just about reaching a destination; it is also about a journey.
In a time bank, people of a community join and engage as members who give and receive their gifts through time spent. This can be geographic, social, or institution-based, and in our case it is neighborhood-based. Members (I’m going to keep using this word but please remember we are "everyday people," citizens of Germantown) offer skills, favors, knowledge, companionship, lessons, and activities, and members also request the same. When a member does something for another member, the time bank credits their account according to the amount of time they put in. This is “paid for” by the member on the receiving end using their time credits.
Members earn two credits just for joining the time bank (which, by the way, costs $0), so that gets the ball rolling. Members find each other through regular gatherings and through the time bank website. A dedicated committee member can also help as a connector between people who aren’t particularly skilled with the internet.
At monthly potlucks, members (and non-members) can enjoy a meal together, make face-to-face connections and share what they are offering or requesting, and one member shares something with the group, highlighting one of their skills.
At September’s potluck, Todzsa English - born and raised in Germantown, Founder of Live Decent - showed how to make bath salts and scrubs.
In October, Christa Barfield - owner of Viva Leaf Tea Products - will share knowledge about teas for holistic wellness.
In November, Lawanda Horton Sauter - President and CEO of Mission Incorporated - will teach about how to save money by couponing.
Experiencing these skills shared at the potluck is a good reminder of how much talent and knowledge there is within our community.
Members can drive each other to the airport or pick up groceries. I received help on my taxes and had repairs made to some of my clothing. So time banking helps meet basic needs, less basic needs, and can also open people up to things that improve their quality of life, that maybe they would have skipped altogether had it not been for the time bank. I wanted to make a change in my diet because of recurring health issues like infections and skin allergies, but I lacked the willpower to get serious about it. Once a member who I know and trust made her knowledge and experience known through the time bank, I spent a couple hours with her in the kitchen and had pages of notes. The impact on my habits has been significant, and I also know that I can reach back out to her for more support.
This is the general story of the individuals’ experience in a time bank -- we offer and receive, needs are met, relationships are built, and the fabric of the community is strengthened.
But there’s another aspect to the story of what we’re doing with time banking that is more about systems and culture-- it’s more radical.
We’re taking a step toward a sharing-based economy. We’re building a system that doesn’t use money, and at its most successful level, people would be able to function in the same way or better were “the system” removed.
We’re leveling the playing field. Everyone’s time has equal values. No longer is the trained accountant’s time worth more than the self-taught herbalist or the babysitter. One hour of my time = one hour of yours.
Community is valued more highly than profit or efficiency or convenience. It’s easy to click a few buttons on your phone to order your groceries, but what relationship is built? What economy is nurtured?
Everyone is valuable. There are no disposable people. This can be difficult to discover for some, but everyone has gifts to share. Time banking can also help people get back on their feet after being unemployed, or can be a way to tread lightly into a new career path.
We are re-humanizing economics. Economics are defined by some as the ways people meet their needs. In recent centuries, much of this has been commodified, turned into a business, often a giant corporation. We’re bringing what we can back to human-level, person-to-person interaction.
In the time bank, people are empowered to ask for help, to treat themselves well, and to share with others. Time banking shows that we can look within our community for resources, that we have within us much of what we need to thrive.
A local network is being created through time banking. When people get together, more can happen. It’s unknown what all will come as a result of the connections made between people in the time bank.
On November 2nd, we are hosting an event that digs more deeply into the radical nature of time banking-- Radical Time Banking 101. The Womanist Working Collective will lead this workshop, using concepts and experience from their time bank- Reciprocity. Womanist Working Collective “is a grassroots social action and support collective for Black womyn (both cis and trans), femmes and gender non-conforming folks.” This event is for people in Germantown who are curious and open to the idea that out of our genuine connection to each other at the neighborhood level, meaningful change can happen. It’s not always about big leaders, big programs, big policies… we little average citizens can be big together.
The time bank referred to in this story is organized by Germantown Residents for Economic Alternatives Together (GREAT). We started the time bank in July 2019 and currently have about 50 members. GREAT is a grassroots group that is also doing educational and advocacy work related to development and displacement, is creating a community land trust, leads a study/discussion group, and hosts community swap events. Learn more and sign up for the time bank through www.greatgtown.org/timebank.
Lindsay is the Founder of GREAT.